Security Clearance Matters: Will the Government Check My Internet History?

If you are applying for a security clearance with the federal government, you probably have a lot of questions about how the background check process works. If you’re like most people, you may be particularly interested in how far the government will look into your online activities and how these could impact your security clearance application.

People are particularly concerned about the government looking through their email accounts, Internet browsing histories, and other virtual assets. Because most of us would agree that we’d prefer to keep this information private, it’s understandable why so many would have this concern. There may be worries about sensitive or embarrassing information being viewed or leaked. There can also be fears that certain information, when taken out of context, could affect the security clearance process.

Emails, Internet Histories & Other Virtual Assets

Although security clearance background checks can be intensely thorough, the government can’t view your emails, Internet browsing history, hard drive data, and other virtual assets without a subpoena or warrant. This means that as long as the conduct you’re engaging in online is legal – including viewing pornography – it most likely won’t come up in your background check unless one of your references brings it up as a concern.

For what it’s worth, security clearance background investigators also don’t bug phones or conduct surveillance on applicants, so you can rest a little easier knowing your every move isn’t necessarily being watched.

Important Caveats

While the government won’t go snooping through your Internet history, emails, or text messages, it can review publicly available information about you. This can include anything you’ve ever posted to social media, an online forum, or other places on the Internet that can be traced back to you. If it can be viewed by the public or by someone with an account to the site where the information is posted, it can be included in your background check.

Also, although the government can’t compel you to surrender emails and other private information/communications without legal action, this doesn’t preclude a reference from volunteering that information. For example: If you once made a threat or discussed engaging in illegal activity with someone via text message, the reference can provide background investigators with their copy of the exchange.


Although the federal government won’t act like an Orwellian nightmare when you’re undergoing a background check, these examinations are thorough. What information you have posted online can be used against you – sometimes even if you think you deleted it from existence.

If you require assistance with your security clearance application or wish to appeal a denial for any reason, you can consult with our security clearance attorneys at Claery & Hammond, LLP.

For more information, contact us online or call (877) 362-3176.